Rambling Notes from Japan
Here are some blog posts that we hope will make you feel a part of things, and help you understand how to pray better for us and Japan. Please see our external blog in Blogger, if this page does not display correctly.
A Trip to the "Tree of Hope"
I’ve written before about the “Tree of Hope” in tsunami-struck Rikuzentaka, Japan. It’s official name is “The Miraculous Solitary Pine Tree.” Out of a glorious forest of some 70,000 Edo-era trees, this one alone survived the waves of 311. It was heralded as a miracle, a source of hope for a devastated country.
But 16 months later, despite the best preservation efforts, its roots finally succumbed to saltwater poisoning. So it was sawed down in sections. The wood was treated, the leaves coated with a synthetic resin, and a metal spine inserted down its trunk. The $1.5 million price tag for all this preservation work garnered a lot of criticism. Many felt the little city’s relief money might be better spent.
A ceremony for the restoration of the tree was held on March 10, 2013, a day before the 2nd anniversary of the 311 triple tragedy. Here, Yoshihisa Suzuki, president of the association for its preservation, said, “It’s returned at last. I’m convinced that the tree will cheer us up.”
A recent trip up in Tohoku took me close enough to Rikuzentakata to visit the memorial. Though I wasn’t quite sure of the location, it turned out to be hard to miss. The glint of the afternoon sun off the metallic skeleton led me to the spot from a distance. I pulled into a stone parking lot on the beach front and walked the kilometer or so to the base of the tree. A half dozen other onlookers stood nearby.
To be honest, I felt it difficult to be “cheered up” by the sight of the tree. The dead, lonely pine posed so artificially. The scaffolding holding it up as though it were a crippled patient in traction. The desolate, brown “moonlike” beach front. It all had the feeling of melancholy to me.
Rather than a place of inspiration, it seemed to be a place of former glory now lost. The scene reminded me of God’s words through Isaiah to Israel: “You will be left like a lonely flagpole on a hill” (30:17). Japan’s situation is no less tragic than Israel’s.
I don’t understand God’s purposes for Japan’s suffering, or any human suffering. But I know where the source of hope is in the middle of suffering. He is there waiting for you, and for Japan, to “come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help” (30:18).
I’m so glad that passage continues with words of hope. May I insert Japan?
O people of [Japan], who live in [Rikuzentakata],
you will weep no more.
He will be gracious if you ask for help.
He will surely respond to the sound of your cries.
I’m so glad that God’s response to man’s cries, to Japan’s cries, involved the sending of his Son. Here is a hope that “does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5).
I’m so glad God made a way for Japan to escape bitter weeping and find true comfort.
My “tree of hope” is still the cross of Christ.
Jesus Buried in Japan?
There is much more to this silly story if you google for it and can bear the details. One such detail is that the Jewish star takes it shape from a five-point flower that grows wild on the hills of Shingo. The grave attraction even has a small museum where some Hebrew and Japanese artifacts, writings and records are displayed. There is also an annual festival in June that centers around the grave and features traditional Japanese dance.
When I first heard this story of Jesus' grave in Shingo, Japan my initial reactions moved from surprise to outrage to sadness and back again. As a Christian, it outrages me to see legends sprinkled with twisted ideas about my Savior take the place of God's revealed truth in Scripture. As a missionary, it saddens me that Japan has put Jesus in the grave. In many ways it is symptomatic of the historic response of Japan to Jesus. Christ is dead to them. Ninety-nine percent of Japanese have no hope of a living Savior that offers strength for life, and life eternal. They have stopped at Good Friday and left Jesus in the grave as a nation. Lest we be too judgmental, though, let's remember that we also can live as believers as if Christ were dead. Although He is alive forevermore, we can live as if he is dead in our lives. We can forget his resurrection power to transform us, his resurrection promise to secure our future, and his resurrection strength to guide and carry us. We, too, can get stuck at the grave and never move forward to the empty tomb.
It's the empty tomb that encourages me to a more optimistic missiological outlook for Japan. Because He lives, there is hope for this people. Japan can move toward the empty tomb and experience the real Easter joy God desires. God is doing that one by one today. Perhaps He will do so in greater numbers tomorrow.
So even though the Shingo Village seems to have exploited the cross and Christ for personal gain, I see in their foolishness one positive note. In some way these Japanese are trying to make a connection with Jesus, trying to understand His story through their own. As gut-wrenching as their attempt is, it gives some place to start with what the Bible has to say. Perhaps the Apostle Paul's Mars Hill address to the Athenians (Acts 17) is a fitting example of how to lead them to truth from there.
Because Christ is risen, we move forward in declaring his message in Japan. By faith, I see Shingo, and the nation of Japan, celebrating not around the grave of Christ, but at the great message of the empty tomb. He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Symbols of Hope
A solitary pine tree remains standing on a destroyed beachfront. It withstood the tsunami that destroyed everything around it. The tree has been at the center of an intense rescue effort to preserve its life. Saltwater poisoning in the soil threatens to do it in, and so team of specialists dig around the tree, replace soil, and monitor its health. DNA is extracted to replant the area someday with bits of new hope from this symbol of living hope.
Not far away another tree stands. A cross rises up above the site of a destroyed church building. Although once a symbol of death, the cross is a great symbol of life. No effort needs to be made to preserve the cross. Rather the cross offers to preserve the lives of all around from sin that has poisoned the "soil" of this world, and threatens to do us all in. The vision and prayer of Christians from this church is to replant the area with the love of Christ, the DNA of the cross. A sign nearby proclaims: "We believe in the revival of this land! Special hope is found here."
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 1:3
Way Back When in Japan
I noticed a Japanese "manji" on the doorposts of most of the historical houses in this village. I photographed it at right. Most people would associate this with Nazi Germany. Few know that the symbol actually existed centuries before this in Indian and Chinese culture, particularly in Buddhism and other eastern religions. Japan, which imported Buddhism hundreds of years ago, also began displaying the manji as a symbol of peace.
I was reminded that some Japanese homes now display a very different symbol for peace: the cross. My heart is filled with joy for these Japanese families for whom Christ made "peace through his blood, shed on the cross." Yet 99% of Japanese are unaware of this peace. Pray that this new peace symbol will be hung on the heart doors of all Japanese in a nationwide awakening.
Our Japan Address
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